Philippians 4:21&22 “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.”
The risen Lord Jesus greeted his doubting disciples. We see that at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him” (Matt. 28:9). Then you see the same warm greeting in the upper room as Luke recounts it: “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you,'” (Lk. 24:36). Again at the end of John’s gospel we are told that Peter and some of the others had gone fishing. The Lord Jesus was standing at the side of the lake and he took the initiative calling out to them, “Friends,” (Jn. 21:5). The risen Christ came in love and spoke words of friendship and peace to these men – men you will remember who, days earlier, had all forsaken him and fled.
What great love Jesus showed, to lay down his life for his friends. The Lamb of God came and took away the guilt and shame of their cowardice. He has answered before the courts of heaven for their sins, and God has accepted this one unique sacrifice. God has shown this by raising his Son from the dead. The living Christ now came to believers as the friend of sinners. The apostle John was one of those greeted by the Lord Jesus. He heard the Saviour say to him, “Peace be with you.” He was in the boat when Jesus addressed them as his friends, and it is that history that lies behind his words when he writes, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (I Jn. 1:3). God greets us. That is why I speak in his name at the beginning of the service and say, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” On the first day of the week God greets us as his friends. “How pleased I am to welcome you into my presence,” he says to us. “Welcome! Welcome! I greet you dear friends!”
We are able to greet one another because God greets us in Christ. Our fellowship in the local church depends on the fellowship we have with God the Father and God the Son. We cannot greet one another as our brothers and sisters unless we have been greeted by God as his children.
1. HOW IMPORTANT ARE LOVING GREETINGS.
What is it to greet one another? It is certainly much more than flashing one’s headlights at the car of another Christian as it drives towards us. It is more than saying ‘Hello’ to a church member in the Post Office – though members of some churches would be glad of that. They complain that their ministers look away when they walk by in the street, but greeting one another is more than saying hello and waving. So this exhortation of Paul is not an encouragement merely to say “Hi” or “Good morning,” to someone. I can prove that point quite easily. When the Lord Jesus sends out his 72 men on an evangelistic mission he tells them that they are not to greet anyone on the road (Lk. 10:4). He is not urging them to ignore people, but as they are men with a mission there would be the danger of stopping and greeting everyone politely and that would take time. Jesus is saying that they cannot spend these days of mission talking with people they meet on the road. Do not greet them, he says, because true greetings will eat up all your time.
Once Keith Underhill took me to Thimlich in western Kenya and there I met some people from one the African Christian sects. One man wore an ankle-length white garment with a red cross sewn onto it. That was the garb of all his sect. I went to him and offered my hand, and he gingerly took it. I had, quite unconsciously, intimidated him into doing that. But the next day when I offered him my hand he had the courage of his convictions. He smiled at me and then grasped his own hands in a curious grasp, and he shook his own hands. Keith told me that this sect have taken this verse in Luke, “Do not greet anyone on the road” to mean it is a sin for a Christian to shake hands with anyone. Of course, that is not what Christ is talking about. I am saying that the Lord Jesus recognised that greeting someone was more than a cursory handshake and a casual ‘Hello.’
The greeting the New Testament is talking about means recognition, and affection, and interest, and respect for another believer. Think of returning home after some time away, and the face of your mother lighting up when she saw you, and the way she greeted you. Think of the greeting of the father for the prodigal son. I think of Professor John Murray’s greetings to students on the campus at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, his smile, his arm through yours as you walked together for five minutes. The sun suddenly shone! Greeting one another is the first rung of the ladder of Christian love. The Lord Jesus said that it would be by our love for one another that we would show the world that we are his disciples. We display our dislike for wolves by ignoring them. We can’t stand being with them. We are told not to give them hospitality and not to pray that God will bless them on their way. We can’t smile at them. We don’t greet them. Disdain wolves in sheep’s clothing but greet every single Christian believer.
John Miller tells us that in a congregation he served he once overheard a visitor to a dedication service saying these words to a young father. “He said, ‘This morning you’ve brought your child to be given over to the Lord. I did that once too, But let me urge you from the bottom of my heart, don’t do to your child what I did to mine. As he grew up, he listened to me criticise the pastor year after year. As a consequence, I turned my boy off the church and ministers, and today he’s far from God.’ With something like a physical spasm he added, ‘I plead with you: don’t ever criticise your pastor and other Christians, or you’ll destroy your son too.’ If you criticise others in the church, you are really attacking yourself – because we are one body in Christ. Indeed, to attack others with our tongue is really to attack Him, the head of the church. So when gossip rages, what is lost is not only reputation, but the whole life of faith that expresses itself through love in the local church community” (C. John Miller, “Outgrowing the Ingrown Church,” Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1986, p.34). That man was talking about the corrosion of trust in the leadership, and how he had come to regret it. Don’t narrow down your activity to grumbling to the few who will hear you, but widen your love to greet every single person.
We begin to show Christian love by greeting one another. I can remember sixty years ago walking home from church on Sunday nights around 7.30. There would be my grandparents, and then my parents and myself, and as we walked we would meet people from the Presbyterian church and the Wesleyan church returning home from their churches. We would often meet them in the same part of town, even on the same car-less street as services would end at roughly the same time. The gentlemen would raise their hats and greet the ladies. “Goodnight,” they would say to one another in Welsh, “Nos da.” And I would pipe up as a four-year old, “Nos da!” too. When we had special services they would come and support us, and we would support them in their anniversary services. There were doctrines which we held to be important which prevented us from all gathering in one building – which would have been physically impossible – but there was respect and knowledge and affection. That was shown in the greeting. It would have been a shameful and puzzling response to have hurried by on the other side of the road with our eyes on the pavement.
Paul is talking in our text about what has been popularly called ‘body ministry’ or what we refer to as ‘corporate sanctification’. In other words, there are those ‘one another’ verses in the New Testament – encourage one another, exhort one another, pray for one another, strengthen one another, love one another and so on. They are referring to one way our advancement in Christ-likeness comes, and that is through the actions of other Christians. We impoverish one another when we fail to minister to one another.
Notice in our text that there is the dynamic of four different groupings involved in greeting one another.
i] “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus,” (v.21). This is what Paul himself did so conspicuously in the last chapter of his letter to the Romans. On no less than seventeen occasions he greets different people by name. He believed that this was very important, and in our text be brings this commandment to bear on every member of the congregation to greet one another. It is as much to be obeyed as the command not to steal, or not to make an idol. This is not a piece of optional advice to be heeded, or admired, or ignored as you see fit. “Greet all the saints!” If someone is a fellow saint in Christ Jesus – that is the only qualification – then you greet him. Don’t just greet your own circle, greet them all. That is why the deacons stand at the door at the beginning of the service, to greet everyone. That is why the minister goes to the door at the end of the service, to greet everyone. On a purely psychological level it is important. Think of the air-stewardesses greeting you as you enter a plane, and then standing to say, “Have a nice day” as you ‘deplane’. We are on a journey to the eternal life of heaven.
Greet all the saints! It doesn’t matter what kind of label is attached to a believer – greet him! Euodia, you greet Syntyche, and Syntyche, you greet Euodia. Let the supporters of Euodia greet the supporters of Syntyche, and the supporters of Syntyche greet the supporters of Euodia. Let the masters greet their slaves in Christ, and the slaves their masters in Christ. Let the rich in Christ greet the poor and vice versa. Let the old saints greet the new and the young, and vice versa. Paul is not talking about one three minutes’ slot in a service when you ‘do it’ under pressure, on cue, self-consciously, and a bit artificially, but always, and shyly, and privately, and everywhere you greet another saint.
When I went to the optician last month and told the young South African who and what I was he then told me that he also followed Jesus Christ and so I greeted him. You shake one another’s hands – “My brother! My sister!” Not all the saints in Philippi showed the same degree of judgment or maturity but the strong in faith were to greet the weak and the weak were to greet the strong. Those being disciplined were to greet those who disciplined them, and those elders who disciplined were to greet those they had disciplined. Let all the Christians in Philippi greet one another, exhorts Paul. We are going to be together for all eternity so let’s not ignore one another here. If God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit greets such people as these then they cannot be too pathetic or evil for us to greet. Reach across every barrier that sin builds between us and greet one another.
Let’s face squarely the charge that our kind of evangelical Christian is elitist. We are told that that our kind of group with our kind of theology has that kind of tendency. It is said that we don’t have much practical confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s presence, and that we tend to be timid. It is put vividly in this way, that if you choose to divide people up into the ‘washed’ and the ‘unwashed’ then a group like ours tends to go for the ‘washed.’ But every true gospel church ought to have the ‘washed’ and also the ‘unwashed’, and the ‘washed’ have to greet the ‘unwashed’ and the ‘unwashed’ encouraged not to be ashamed of greeting the ‘washed.’ Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus, ‘washed’ and ‘unwashed.’
The more we do it the better, but we shouldn’t imagine it to be very easy or natural. If it were Paul would not have brought this four-fold exhortation. All social intercourse carries risks. You can probably avoid all the pain in the world by avoiding relationships. A Christian lady once said, “The longer I live, the more I love the Lord’s people and the less I trust them!” Maybe. But that shouldn’t make us hermits. We need the support, encouragement, admonition and rebuke of other Christians. We need to greet one another; simply to be together. We need to be part of a critical mass in which faith stimulates faith and launches it into explosive activity. If you have been hurt by some Christians, don’t say, “I am simply going to keep clear of them all so I won’t be hurt again.” We have to stick with the Lord’s people. They’re our people. They’re insepaarable from Himself.
ii] “The brothers who are with me send greetings,” (v.21). Paul is now passing on greetings. It is that important, to convey a person’s greetings to another. “He told me to send you his love, that he thinks about you and thanks God for you, that he still remembers you in such a place and time.” Here were people who helped Paul in his imprisonment in Rome. For example Timothy is mentioned in the opening words of this letter. Epaphroditus is mentioned, though he may be the one carrying this letter to Philippi. There were a group of Paul’s supporters – “the brothers who are with me” – and when they knew Paul was writing to Philippi they said, “make sure you send our greetings!” Some of them had never been to Greece and never met anyone from Philippi, but they were conscious that these were their eternal brethren and that was enough. They greeted them. They had heard Paul pray for them and discuss the problems in that church. They felt they knew that congregation. You yourselves get to know congregations here and in Kenya and in Aberdeen and in Pembroke and in Child’s Hill through our Prayer Meeting. That is the best place to come to that knowledge.
iii] Then Paul widens this circle of greetings a bit further: “All the saints send you greetings” (v.22). There hadn’t been the same affection within the congregation in Rome for Paul as there was in Philippi. He was the father in the faith to the church in Philippi, while there were those in the congregation in Rome who were envious of him; they preached Christ, yes, but pointedly, as his rivals, showing their jealousy of him. Yet all the church in Rome heard that this letter was being sent and they put away their follies and personal differences and they said, “Do send our greetings to the Philippian believers.” There was the full membership list of the church in Rome, and every man jack of them said, “Me too! I send my greetings to them.”
iv] Then we come to another selected group, “especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (v.22). When we began to look at the history of Philippi we discovered that it had become a Roman colony a hundred years earlier at the end of a civil war in Rome, when a large Roman army abandoned in Greece was encouraged to settle down in Philippi and not return to the chaos of Rome. Land was given to them in part payment for service to their nation; they married local girls and the city was made a colony of Rome. So the Philippians had links with Rome especially with those who were members of the imperial entourage.
Think of this! The gospel of Jesus Christ had gone from one man dying on a Roman cross thirty years earlier to now having disciples working in Rome itself, in the imperial civil service, when Paul is writing this letter. In that environment, where many of their colleagues worshipped the emperor as a god there were those who bowed before Jesus Christ. They had access to Paul; they could tell him to send their greetings to Philippi too. That was not below them as those working at the top of the tree. So some of the power-brokers in the ancient world were coming into contact with humble Christian people. Here were men who handled official documents. They might have known their counterparts in the Roman colony in Philippi. How encouraging for the Christians in Philippi struggling with being followers of Jesus Christ and also servants of Caesar to know that there, in the very palace in which Caesar lived, Christians were wrestling with the same difficulties. They were sending their greetings from mighty Rome to little Philippi.
There is another suggestion to make about these people in Caesar’s household. It does not refer to the family and relations of Caesar, but Paul has said in the first chapter that as a result of his imprisonment, “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Phils 1:13). So there were those hundreds of conversations that Paul had had with members of the Praetorian Guard, the crack regiment, when he was chained to them. Could there not have been a number of those who had believed on Jesus Christ? If there were centurions who were drawn to the Lord Jesus, and also to Peter, it is not unlikely that some of those in Caesar’s household sending their greetings to Philippi were these converted soldiers? What would be a mark of a soldier’s conversion? That he showed a fascination in a Christian congregation a thousand miles away in another country – a military man! What greater evidence of new life in a military man could there be than that? So all these people send greetings to the church in Philippi and Paul exhorts the congregation to communicate, and show affection and respect for one another.
2. HOW WE CAN BECOME A CONGREGATION THAT LOVES AND GREETS.
i] The Minister Must Greet People.
Let me start with myself. Let every minister greet his flock but also keep away the wolves. Let me use this metaphor. He has to be at the church door – I have referred to that – and he has to be a door, and also he is to have an open door. Maybe it is easier to be a door than an open door. The shepherd in New Testament times would drive the sheep into the pen for the night and then he would sleep across the entrance. He was the door; he would stop the flock wandering out and stop any wolves getting in. A preacher today has to be the door. He preaches the whole counsel of God and he prevents error getting a foothold in the church. He keeps the flock by the truth, and he drives away the wolves by the sword of the Spirit.
A preacher also has to be an open door. In the pulpit he opens the doors of heaven to all men and women – “Come to Christ and welcome.” In his home he opens the manse door to all men and women. My friend, the late Fraser Tallach, was called to be the minister in the Highlands of Scotland in a fishing village called Kinlochbervie. Early on in his ministry this incident occurred: on a Saturday night when he was trying to hammer into shape his two sermons for the next day, a knock came to the back door. When he opened it, two figures stood between the glow of the light from the hallway, and the darkness beyond it. They stood silent, but evidently waiting to be asked in. He knew neither of them. His mind went through several somersaults in trying to find an appropriate response. It seemed unlikely there was a spiritual motive in their visit. If they were coming for a chat, might there not be plenty of future opportunities. He explained to them this was not the most convenient of times and could they visit again? With that he closed the door.
One of these men was named Derek Morrison from Manse Road. The other was called Alasdair Tom. Not long after that Saturday night incident Fraser saw Derek at the garage, and slipped into the front seat of his car. He had quite a long chat with him which he thought might have been the precursor of many more. It was not to be. Shortly thereafter, while moving his boat from the Loch Clash harbour to the Loch Bervie harbour, Derek was drowned in heavy seas rounding the headland. His body was never found.
It was a great word to Fraser to keep an open door, and greet people, and not turn people away only because it was an inconvenient time for you. People must always come before books and study. God will make up to you time given to people in his name. Henceforth the Manse door in Kinlochbervie was an open door. Children were greeted by Fraser. He never married, and the door was open for local children like Malcolm and Chirsty who lived in the street to come and talk to him, usually accompanied by a retinue of other children. They played marbles on the carpet, and the first time Fraser kneeled down and drew a chalk circle on the carpet young Malcolm stood over him and asked him solemnly, like a grandparent gently questioning the ways of an erring youth, “Does your house-keeper know you do this?” Fraser Tallach always remembered the text of the sermon preached at his induction sermon, “I have set before thee an open door and no man can shut it.” After the death of that fisherman Fraser kept an open door and greeted everyone who came to his manse and invited them in. The minister is at the church door; he is the door, and the minister keeps an open door. Let him be an example to the flock in greeting people. Our Manse should be always open. You can phone me any time morning or evening. Don’t apologise for calling me; such calls are all too rare. People must always come before books.
One other thing; greeting is a spiritual activity. If it is a fleshly action then it is nothing at all. To greet a fellow Christian a minister, as much as anyone else in the congregation – if not more – must learn to depend upon the Spirit and seek strength and help from him day by day. We all have to learn to trust in the Spirit of God, and instinctively invoke his help at every moment of crisis in our ministries as we witness to the glory of Jesus Christ. Keep an open door to people, but keep an open door to the ministry of the Holy Spirit too and you will find the Spirit coming with power and wisdom and giving you words that are entirely appropriate to a particular situation. Let me illustrate this with something Fraser Tallach said: “I remember a story as a child which told of two yachts racing one another. The skipper of one spied a ruffle of wind far off in the open sea. He made for it, though in doing so he was travelling at a wide angle from the finishing line and was adding considerably to the distance he covered. Once he reached the breeze, his sails filled and he sped to the finishing line well in advance of his rival.” We must have the wind. You cannot row a sailboat. It depends on the wind to blow it along. The church has been designed to make any progress which it is going to make by the wind of the Holy Ghost. As we greet people, and they greet us and we begin to listen to them then are we crying in our hearts, “Wind from heaven blow upon these bones! Show me where I should go in this conversation to have more of your help. Guide me and strengthen me for that end.” How impossible it is without him. The gospel can come in word only, and what good is that? Without him we can do nothing.
Don’t the people need awakening in these days? If we try to do that work without the Spirit aren’t our words harsh or strident? On one occasion John Tallach, the author of some children’s books published by the Banner of Truth, was preaching in Halkirk in Caithness. He was having hospitality for the day with two sisters, the Miss Black sisters. He went to his room after lunch and in a while was soundly asleep. The time for the evening service came near and the Miss Black sisters were concerned at the total silence in the bedroom. So they went up together to his room and knocked on the door and roused him warning him of the lateness of the hour. He got off the bed and went to the door and thanked them, and as they walked away down the stairs he heard the one sister saying to the other, “We didn’t want to disturb him, but it was disturbing he needed.” So it is with so many we meet as Christians. We don’t want to disturb them, but it is disturbing they need. I acknowledge, it is disturbing I need. Only the Holy Ghost can truly disturb us, so, as we greet and listen and speak we are crying for the Wind to blow and upset this great tragic calm which is keeping the churches in the doldrums in our days.
ii] The Congregation Must Greet One Another.
a) The Lord’s Day Services are a time of greeting. To do this we have to prepare ourselves. Today there is the cry for participation in worship, but our first concern must be preparation for meeting with one another. It is an easy thing to prepare outwardly; we wash our faces and our hands and dress ourselves presentably. How much more important it is to prepare our souls. “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?” asks David. “Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands.” Now we can take that in the non-metaphorical sense and say that outward preparation is not irrelevant. You are hesitant about shaking hands with someone if you come straight from cleaning out the cow shed. Yet clearly the most important part of our preparation is not the outward appearance – “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Ps. 24:3&4). A double-tongued man is unable to greet another sincerely.
So we prepare to meet with God and his people, and that is not too difficult. We must be quite deliberate in this matter. We must put the brakes on our household on Sunday mornings; there has to be some slowing down of the tempo of our lives on a Sunday morning to prepare ourselves for the service of public worship. It is a quieter, slower day. Things start later. We are blessed in not having to be in church until 10.30 a.m. Yet it is not the outward that is most important: our hearts should be cleansed from bitterness, envy, anger, resentment and so on. We are going to come to God’s house with repentance, with joy, with a sensitivity to the Scriptures, whether read or preached, and above all a sense of expectancy.
b) The Prayer Meeting is another time of greeting. The midweek meeting is more of a challenge because all of us have been working all day. Mothers have been toiling at home, and though we have left our place of work we have brought the thoughts of work and the cares of the day with us. But preparing ourselves for others is not impossible. We receive greetings from distant missionaries before the meeting starts by reading their prayer letters placed on the seats. We hear of needs and we share our thanksgiving and requests, and then we pray for one another. That is one way we greet one another:
“Before our Father’s throne we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.
“When for a while we part this thought will soothe our pain,
That we shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.”
John Fawcett (1740-1817).
There has to be an opportunity each week within the life of the fellowship for prayer and general ministry of all and every member. That might bristle with problems and it might be controlled too much or too little but it is an indispensable part of the life of the church. You want to greet your brother, but he is in hospital, so you want to know how he is. How do you pray for him?
c) Every encounter is a time of greeting. After the service is over we greet one another and we should seek to talk of spiritual topics. This should become increasingly second nature to us, or ‘new nature.’ One may feel like locking the doors after the “Amen” of the benediction to prevent folk disappearing rapidly without engaging in biblical conversation. Needless to say that is not the answer. Christians must realise that after hearing the word of God, and having profited by what they have heard and sung, then there is an opportunity for our conversation to be full of grace (Colossians 4:6). There is that great word of Paul: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Such conversations ought not to be just with other Christians but with those visiting us It is almost a rule that before we talk to our friends we greet the strangers with us. If you happen to be sitting next to a visitor you shake their hands, but others are sitting further away, are you covering any distance to do this? Do you think about saying, “Have you got somewhere to go for lunch?”
It is obvious that the themes of the sermon can provide great opportunity to speak to these people. A sermon has been preached, for example, on the power of Jesus Christ to still the storm, or on the freeness of the gospel, and there are those in the congregation who need such a ministry. We have been praying that visitors come into our church and now God has brought them here. Greet them! Who knows what good can be done? The Great Commission tells us to begin at Jerusalem; this is our Jerusalem isn’t it? If we were enthusiastic about knocking on doors and talking to strangers about the gospel but then we ignored a stranger when he actually came into the congregation we would be accused of hypocrisy. The scope is unlimited. Members of the church do not live close to one another, the pace of life is fast and so we redeem the time by these conversational opportunities.
Then there are also those occasions during the week when we can meet with one another, and we don’t do that often enough. In a church covenant drawn up for a Particular Baptist Church in Cambridgeshire in 1843, point 15 reads: “That we will make conscience, as we have opportunity, to visit one another; and in our visit to make it our business to inquire into each other’s spiritual state; and spend that little time we may be together in communicating some spiritual thing to each other, and not in idle talk and foolish jesting or in exposing the sins and infirmities of our neighbours, or other professors (as is the shameful practice of some present) but in endeavouring to promote each other’s edification and comfort in the Lord.” There is good scriptural precedent for this conduct. Think of the way Onesiphorus behaved to Paul who says, “he often refreshed me . . . he searched hard for me until he found me . . . in how many ways he helped me” (2 Tim. 1:16-18).
When Lydia’s heart was opened then she opened her home. The Philippian jailer did the same. He brought them into his house and set food before them and rejoiced (Acts 16:34). This Philippian congregation was born in hospitality. Christians are to, “Practise hospitality” (Roms. 12:13) and “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (I Pet. 4:9). You protest that you don’t have space, or you can’t afford it, but we can all do something and we needn’t be extravagant. You don’t need to give as good a meal as you received. Not enough of us are giving hospitality to visiting preachers and missionaries. If you did not have a minister and each weekend a pastor was coming here to preach more of you would have to help out.
A Christian home is one of our weapons in tackling the needs of our complex world. Francis Schaeffer once said, “there is no place in God’s world were there are no people who will come and share a house as long as it is a real home.” If we are going to greet the world with good news then we have to take an “unantiseptic risk”, for example, a girl with a sexually transmitted disease sleeping between our sheets, or entertaining an alcoholic. To meet the challenge of the world at this point isn’t easy, but then that is not the level at which we begin. We begin by greeting fellow Christians. Indeed, if we cannot do this it is foolish to think that our homes will ever be open meaningfully to those outside of Christ.
What is the value of such hospitality being extended to other church members? In each other’s homes we can share our joys and sorrows. In each other’s homes we can learn how ordinary other people are. In each other’s homes we can learn to pray with one another. In each other’s homes we can learn from one another, how to care for children, how to conduct family worship. The possibilities are endless.
Why do so few Christians today open their lives to others in this non-Christian world of ours? One reason is that we are afraid of being hurt by involvement with others. We don’t want the trouble and the risk, the exhaustion that hospitality brings, the struggles with sloth that it requires, and all the rest of the suffering that it entails. But we are ignoring the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the promise that his grace is sufficient, and that giving a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus brings a reward. If two or three more people in a congregation see the importance of greeting others spiritually then the influence on the whole church would be pervasive. Think of the impact a dedicated student can have – man or woman – just in nine months, how their example can inspire and challenge a whole church.
“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus!” That is the task of every one of you. Don’t leave anyone out. There was a pastor to whom this need came so powerfully of the congregation being much more involved with one another. The years were going by, and the church was failing to do this, though he had often spoken to them about it, and it was stagnating. He became quite broken-hearted about it, and one Sunday he faced the congregation and preached to them again about their obligations to one another, and in closing he said, “Many times I have asked you to help me in the work and told you how unable I am to do it. Now I want to tell you I can’t go on without your help. We must be a team together, partners before God. My friends in Christ, you know how much I love you, but you aren’t participating in the work of God. You haven’t taken me seriously when I’ve asked you to get involved with me in it. I am not the Holy Spirit. I am only me. I simply can’t go on in this way, trying to do my work and yours. I repent of my having failed to insist upon this with you, and I now want to encourage you to see me as I really am, a weak man who desperately needs your help.”
I believe that a spirit of revival and repentance came upon all of them as that pastor spoke, touched off by his own humility and openness with God and with the congregation. They became convicted of their stubbornness in refusing to greet one another and also to offer the greetings of Christ to a dying world. There was a new obedience in the church; a greeting of the lost fuelled by a new awareness of Christ welcoming them into the circle of his love.
1st June 2003 GEOFF THOMAS